Cheers! UK toast royal jubilee with English bubbly

Tue Apr 3, 2012 7:45am EDT
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By Clare Kane

LONDON (Reuters) - English wine producers are eyeing 2012 as the year home-grown wine, especially sparkling varieties, could become a mainstream product as retailers throw their weight behind it to coincide with Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee.

Over the past decade improving quality, increasing volumes and solid performances at expert tastings have established English wine as more than a passion for amateurs, though it still accounts for less than 1 percent of the UK market.

Climate change has upped temperatures in southern England to within one degree of Champagne in northern France, meaning some English sparkling wine is now on a par with champagne for soil and climate conditions. Some varieties have even beaten their French rivals in blind tastings.

"It has become a proper business with skilled professionals growing vines and making wines," said wine critic Jancis Robinson, whose website recommends a variety of English wines.

"(English wine) needs to increase its market share since the total volume produced is set to increase considerably over the next few years, the result of new plantings."

British supermarket Sainsbury's launched its first own-label English sparkling wine this month and Tesco, which currently stocks one English white wine, said it was considering wines for the Jubilee and possibly for its website.

Upmarket chains Waitrose, which spearheaded the English wine movement among retailers, and Marks & Spencer, said they planned to promote home-grown varieties to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne in June.

"Where the supermarkets have come into play is that they've been able to give it a much more national distribution," said Andy Howard, buyer for English wines at Marks & Spencer.   Continued...

A man cleans rows of sake wine at the Zuma restaurant in central London May 13, 2008. REUTERS/Toby Melville